Feeling empathy for mankind: A comparative view by two poets

How closely can – how closely should – one individual identify with the problems of others, or mankind in general is a recurring motif in philosophy and literature.   

I shall confine myself to two examples. First are the immortal words of one of the greatest poets of the English language, and leading light of the Metaphysical school. However, these did not come through a poem but a sermon, when John Donne became religious in later life, abandoning his scepticism.

From Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1623), XVII, begins:

Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris (Now this bell, tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.)

However, it is the fourth para, which is the most well known, and made more famous when Hemingway used some of its last lines as the title for his Spanish Civil War epic.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Donne wrote this in 1623.

However, three centuries earlier, this sentiment was well expressed too by one of Iran’s leading poets: Abū Muslih bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī, who the world knows better as Sa’di, the writer of the incomparable “Bostan” and “Gulistan”.

Notably, this extract also graced the entrance of the United Nations building in Geneva

Bani Adam a’aza-ye yek digarand
Ke dar aafrinesh ze yek goharand
Che ovze bedard aavard ruzgar
Digar uzveha ra namaanad qaraar
To kaz mohnat-e-digaraan bighami
Nashayaad ke naamat nihand aadmi

Unfortunately, I guess not many will understand Farsi, despite that old proverb “Haath kangan to aarsi kya….”. I append a free-wheeling translation below

“Human beings (Adam’s tribe in the original) are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain

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